What We Talk About When We Talk About Middle Neighborhoods

By Nelson Beckford, The Cleveland Foundation

Picture this: a rectangular table with 30 leaders from Cleveland’s community development field. We were there to discuss the concept of “middle neighborhoods” and to provide a recap of the Middle Neighborhood working group meeting in Cleveland for those who weren’t able to join. I didn’t know what to expect. Will the group take offense to the term “middle neighborhood”?

To our surprise, people leaned into the discussions. The CBO directors from the middle neighborhoods outlined the ways these places are changing and the many ways they are not.  One CBO director from a ‘distressed neighborhood’ said that they aspire to be a ‘middle neighborhood’. A director from a ‘strong neighborhood’ talked about the prevalence of certain streets that classify as ‘middle’ in their communities.

The energy in the room was high and it was clear the conversation around “middle neighborhoods” had just begun. The first order of business is finding a way to define this term in the context of Cleveland – at this moment in time. Scale is also a question we need to wrestle with. And maybe ‘middle neighborhood’ is the wrong term? One thing is certain. As with curb cuts, the nascent middle neighborhood movement will be a failure if the benefits and lessons don’t transfer to the other neighborhood types. That is our charge.